(4 min read)
The last leaves are dropping off the trees as we speak! The nights are drawing in and you’ve just started rooting around for your gloves and scarf. Whether you’re depressed, suffering with S.A.D or temporarily lost your mojo, it’s normal to go through phases of not wanting to exercise. I hope these tips on how to exercise when you’re feeling low help you get the best from yourself when you’re not 100%
It’s rather ironic: study after study after study highlights the powerful and wide-ranging mental health benefits of exercise and yet getting yourself out the door when you’re feeling down can be the hardest thing on earth.
Please note I’m certainly not downplaying the severity of depression and these tips are not the solution for many people’s troubles. I’d strongly encourage anyone who’s suffering to seek help from friends, family or professionals, but hope these tricks help empower you to get out there when you’re not feeling like it.
#1 Celebrate the small victories
Week in, week out, we expect ourselves to get training sessions done and, we often do.
It’s easy to take that for granted and forget that consistent training requires great mental and physical strength. That strength should be rewarded, particularly on the days when you really don’t want to it.
Give yourself a fist bump when you’ve got it done, even if it’s a reduced session or just a bit more activity during the day.
#2 Make it achievable
This one applies to everyone, from elite athlete to weekend warrior. If you’re in a dark spot and are faced with an intimidating session, there’s little likelihood of a positive outcome. You’ll either start the session and have to pull halfway through (leaving you feeling like a failure) or you’ll not even begin because your head simply isn’t in it.
Dial back the planned session, make it more achievable and recognise that something is better than nothing.
Athletes thrive on squeezing the most from each session but understanding that dialling the planned session back to accommodate your mental health is crucial for long-term consistency.
Personally, it took me years to actually dial down my sessions to avoid injury. I was a nightmare, training at the same intensity and frequency I did when I was 25yo and playing professional sport. Now I have the knowledge and experience to reduce the volume but increase the efficiency and make achieving fat loss and strength gains almost effortless. (Wanna know how?)
It is not a sign of weakness.
#3 Know what you find easy
When you’re in a hole, don’t try to complete a session you find super-tough. Replace it with a session you find easier.
Of course, low intensity aerobic sessions tend to make a good replacement for hard interval sets and still bring positive physiological adaptations, but some find short, sharp sessions mentally easier to complete and fit in.
Personally, my go-to session when I feel unable to complete a mentally demanding session is a ‘Add One session’
I will do an exercises shoulder press for example for a random set of reps, say 10 then a minute or so later do the shoulder press but add lunges afterwards for 12, another min rest and I would do shoulder press, lunges and then maybe add press-ups and so on until I maybe have 8-10 exercises or have been working out for 45min. Either way I have built up to a decent session without worrying about a daunting plan!
Note the sessions you find easy to accomplish and use these as your go-to when your head isn’t in a place to complete the planned workout.
#4 Remember the 5-minute rule
You rarely regret a session once you’re home and settled on the sofa
Used in conjunction with #2 - ensuring the session is realistic and achievable - we know we always feel better after exercise.
Rarely will we get home from a run wishing we hadn’t gone, so deploy the 5-minute rule: get changed, get out there and start. If after five minutes you don't want to continue, you have permission to go home.
Nine times out of 10 you’ll crack on and complete the session.
A classic example of this I use with my clients is The 5min run away’ away. Get up in the morning and only plan to run 5mins from the house, turn around and run back. You will either feel like doing a bit more and/or you will be more consistent.
#5 Give yourself a break
This is so easy to say but for Type A personalities it can be very hard.
Recognising that we’re all human, not robots, is not a weakness. Quite the opposite in fact. Understanding your fallible and accepting that we’re all susceptible to wanes in mojo is important because it gives us permission to be kind to ourselves.
There is no failure in admitting weakness and saying, ‘you know what, today I just don’t have the fire in my belly to train’. This can certainly be turned to a positive and be described as SMART training! Avoiding injury when your heads not in it can lead to longer adherence and better results.
#6 Do it with friends
When you hear successful athletes speak about the factors which contribute to their success, you’ll often hear them say their training ‘environment’ – ie, the group of people they train alongside – plays a key role.
Training with friends is mentally a lot easier than going solo
Next time you really don’t fancy getting out there, drop a friend a text and ask if they fancy joining. You’ll tick the exercise box and another important one: building relationships.
#7 Nutrition matters
There’s a clear link between the food you eat and the quality of your mental health.
People suffering from SAD often have low levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, deficiencies of which are as a result of diet.
Because there’s a clear connection between nutrition and mental health, it’s easy to see the link between nutrition and exercise.
Eating nutrient-dense food isn’t just about physiological benefits. It’s also good for your mental health and if your head is in a better place, you’re more likely to be able to train
If your mental health suffers due to poor diet, you’re less likely to train, which compounds the problem. You feel rubbish so you eat rubbish and you thus lose the impetus to train – it’s a vicious cycle.
Improving the quality of nutrition is a great step on the path to consistent training. Put the good stuff in and you’ll want to reward your body with some exercise and visa versa!
How to exercise when you’re feeling low – conclusion
Even if you’re passionate about exercise, sport and love training, the mind can be cruel and rob you of your desire to get out there and do the one thing that often makes you feel better.
I think the most important of the above tips is #5: give yourself a break and accept that it's normal for your desire to exercise to diminish from time to time.
Recognise you're human and be kind to yourself. Keep the healthy nutrition going in and you will stay in shape.
Pleasure as always..